Charged for charging? That’s against credit card rules

Debit and credit cards provide convenience for consumers. However, those conveniences are not without costs.

Merchants are charged a service fee for every card swiped. On top of that, businesses also pay a percentage of each charge to credit card companies. To offset some of those costs, businesses will sometimes charge customers a small fee for using a credit or debit card.

This violates the merchant agreement. Merchant rules for both Visa and Mastercard specifically state that businesses are not to charge customers for the use of a credit card, regardless of the amount.

Rather than adding a surcharge, other businesses ask for a minimum purchase. This also violates the terms of agreement, according to Visa and Mastercard. In some states, it is also illegal. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma and Texas have outlawed surcharges, according to the Bankcard Holders of America.

In most states, however, there are no laws restricting surcharges.

So what do some Federal Way consumers say?

John Mbitu, a local mechanic, is disgusted with the practice and upset that it occurs so often. Using a credit card at the gas station is even more inconvenient, he said. Mtibu said that not only does he get a surcharge for using his card, but the card is run at double the amount until the charge is processed, effectively freezing some of his funds.

“We work hard for our money,” Mbitu said.

Margarita Andrade agreed. Andrade, a certified nurse’s assistant, said the added surcharges make it difficult to keep track of her funds.

“It’s embarrassing when you try to use your card to pay for things and it gets declined,” she said.

Like many businesses, Federal Way Mail Center uses a card swipe machine and was unaware of the policy. Co-owner Marni Minga said that if customers use a card for a purchase under $5, they are charged a fee. However, she said a separate processing company actually levies the surcharge.

“If they’re charging me, I have to pass it on to the customer,” Minga said.

Now that she is aware of the merchant policy, Minga intends to look into it further.

Visa advises that if a merchant is in violation of their terms, contact your card issuer. MasterCard allows you to file a complaint online.

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